TONY’S TIPS #151

I have no shame.

My pick of the week is Black Lightning [DC Comics; $19.99], which collects the stories from Black Lightning #1-11, Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #1 and World’s Finest Comics #260. These stories, mostly written by yours truly with two by the legendary Dennis O’Neil and mostly drawn by original series artist Trevor Von Eeden, have never been reprinted since their original appearances from 1977 to 1979. Okay, if you want to quibble, Black sLightning #1 was reprinted at reduced size in a DC digest magazine during that period, but that’s it. Unless you read these stories in their original publications, they will be new to you today.

When I created Black Lightning, it was the not-quite-culmination of a personal quest to create an inspirational African-American super-hero who readers black and white, young and old, could relate to. My quest was born of my longing for simple fairness, long before I heard and embraced the term “diversity.” I had black friends who read comic books and they didn’t often see themselves in the comic books they read. I thought that was wrong. So when I got into the comics industry in 1972, I wanted to do something about it.

I got my training at Marvel Comics under the tutelage of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. I was privileged to be part of an amazing bunch of writers which included Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Don McGregor, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. When I moved to DC and new challenges, fate and two questionable scripts by another writer gave me a rare opportunity to make comics history. But you can read all about that in this collection’s new introduction.

In these stories, you will meet Jefferson Pierce, a man who, after some disappointments in his life, returns to the high school where he first earned renown as an athlete and embraces his studies as a teacher. He came looking for a new start, to encourage students as he had been encouraged young minds and, perhaps, to reconnect with the sense of community that has always been so vital to our black communities and our nation. What he didn’t expect to happen was to become a reluctant soldier in a war. With the fourth issue of the original series, each story began the same way:

Jefferson Pierce: a man who came home and found that home in the merciless grip of the 100. Now he fights the mob on two fronts, in the classroom as a dedicated teacher and in the streets as the dynamic…Black Lightning!

In these stories, you will see Black Lightning accept the mantle of super-hero while contending with ruthless mob-boss Tobias Whale and minions such as the Cyclotronic Man and Syonide. You will see him meet such classic DC characters as Inspector Henderson, Jimmy Olsen and Superman. You will see the earliest work of future super-star artist Trevor Von Eeden.

When a writer reads stories he wrote four decades ago, he’s putting his ego at risk. Long-forgotten flaws in the work leap out at you. But, at the risk of sounding immodest, I think these stories hold up pretty well. There are moments that make me proud, such as when Black Lightning explains to Superman why he can do what Superman cannot do or when Jeff Pierce makes peace with his past. There are thrilling action sequences, tragic losses and joyous victories to be had. I’m proud of this work and I hope you’ll find enjoyment and merit in it as well.

Jeff Pierce’s “mantra,” as it were, was his version of an old poem:

Justice, like lightning,
Should ever appear,
To some men hope
And to other men fear.

Thanks to Den Didio, Geoff Johns, Paul Santos and other DC folks, the hopes I had for this creation live on. Their respect for Black Lightning and my work is genuine and welcome. These old tales could represent a new beginning for Jefferson Pierce and what he stands for. I invite you to join the dream.

ISBN 978-1-4012-6071-2

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Captain Marvel

Welcome to the new comics industry. Sisters are continuing to do it for themselves and I’m extremely glad for it. As regular readers of this column know, many of my favorite super-hero and other comics star female characters and are often written and drawn by talented creators who happen to be women.

The post-Secret Wars relaunch of Captain Marvel [Marvel; $3.99] is by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, show runners and writers on Marvel’s Agent Carter television series. In the relaunch, Captain Marvel (Carol

Danvers) commands the Alpha Flight space station, an early warning and defense station protecting our planet from alien encounters of the unfriendly kind. That the first issue of the new series was also the first comic-book script for the duo boggles my mind. It’s the equivalent of hitting a home run in your first at-bat as a professional. Maybe not a perfect out of the park homer, but a home run just the same.

Carol is everything a super-hero should be. Human and super-human. We can relate to her frustration at the bureaucracy involved in her new job while admiring her leadership chops. The use of the Alpha Flight characters is a little problematic for me – Puck asking for Carol’s autograph, the seemingly unnecessary mention that Sasquatch and Aurora were once romantically involved – but I’m intrigued by other supporting cast members as well as the mini-Babylon 5 vibe of the station’s dealings with various extraterrestrials. Two issues in and I’m hooked.

Captain Marvel looks and reads well with solid art by Kris Anka and colors by Matthew Wilson. If you’ve enjoyed other super-hero titles I’ve recommended, you’ll enjoy this one, too.

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Mandalay

Mandalay by Philippe Thirault with art by Butch Guice, Mike Perkins and others [Humanoids; $39.95] is a dark and exciting adventure set in colonial Burma in the 1940s. It’s the tale of twin brothers who find themselves on opposite sides of conflicts between the Burmese and their British occupiers, between the British and the invading Japanese and between their passions for the same woman, with all of these situations inflamed by dark powers released from an ancient, cursed city. Published in a glorious, hardcover, oversized edition, Mandalay is 188 pages of excitement, horror, romance and tragedy. Once I started reading the graphic novel, I couldn’t turn its pages fast enough…and then I went back to savor them again.

Mandalay almost slipped under my radar, but a brief online mention led me to it. The story is compelling with an ending that is both satisfying and wonderfully unnerving. The Guide/Perkins are is top-notch, as are the forty or so pages drawn by other skilled artists. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to seek out other comics work from Europe. Read it and see for yourself.

ISBN 978-1-59465-131-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #150

My pick of the week isn’t a comic-book series or a graphic novel. It’s the delightful DC Super-Hero Girls Special that premiered on Boomerang a couple weeks back. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time I watched the one-hour presentation. I’m pretty sure I giggled with glee a few times during that hour.

DC Super Hero Girls has been around for several months. Wikipedia describes is as a “super-hero fashion doll and action franchise” with the basic premise as “At Super Hero High School, well-known DC heroes attend classes and deal with all the awkwardness of growing up with the added stress of having superpowers.” I knew it was out there, but it never quite penetrated my conscious mind. It took a mention in TV Guide to catch my attention.

Thirteen short animated episodes of the series were posted on the DC Super Hero Girls website and YouTube. This first season ran from October of last year through February of this year. These episodes introduced the concept, showed Wonder Woman coming to the school, and featured over two dozen other DC characters. Most of the heroes were re-imagined as teenagers.

In the special, the newly-arrived-to-Earth Supergirl enrolls in the school and faces some real challenges from the get-go. But she also makes friends like Barbara Gordon (who becomes Batgirl during the special), Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Harley Quinn and Bumblebee. One of the neat things is that, as principal Amanda Waller says, this is a place where gifted teenagers learn how to be heroes and that seems to include characters we normally think of as villains, such as the Cheetah. Some of the faculty might also given you cause for pause. For example, Gorilla Grodd is on the staff.

The show has terrific voice actors, including Grey DeLisle (Wonder Woman/Lois Lane, Anais Fairweather as Supergirl, Mae Whitman as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Tara Strong as Harley Quinn/Poison Ivy and many more. In a nice touch, Dean Cain and Helen Slater voice Pa and Ma Kent. The character designs are vibrant with the animation and storytelling also being first-rate. I love this series.

The special will continue to air on Boomerang for the time being, so you’ll get no further spoilers from me. But I recommend you give it a viewing at your earliest opportunity. It will leave you with a good feeling in your heart and your head. I liked it so much that I immediately bought Wonder Woman at Super Hero Hire [Random House; $13.99], the just-released young readers novel by Lisa Yee. Expect a review of that book in the very near future.

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Faith

I don’t think there has ever been a better time in the comic-book world for super-women of all ages. Of late, it seems many and maybe most of my favorite comic-book titles star female characters. The partial list includes Ms. Marvel, The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl, DC Comics Bombshells, Bandette, Harley Quinn and Lazarus. That many of these are the work of the new wave of female creators who’ve gained prominence in the industry is no coincidence.

Joining this sorority of super-heroes is Faith [Valiant; $3.99 per issue] by Jody Houser with art by Francis Portella and Marguerite Sauvage. Faith, a telekinetic psiot who can fly and create a field allowing her to carry and move objects, has been a member of both the team called the Renegades and the government-sanctioned Unity. She’s on her own now, trying to live up to her idea of what a hero should be. Oh, yeah, and she’s one of us. A fan.

Faith Herbert is hitting the comic-book heroics in a manner which makes me worry that she’s heading for disappointment. She’s adopted a secret identity as online pop culture writer Summer Smith, which sort of speaks for itself. She has super-hero dreams. Even though her ex-boyfriend Torque has revealed himself to be a colossal jerk, she hasn’t lost all faith in him. I love this young woman and hope the world will not be too cruel to her.

Even though the Valiant Universe is fairly dense, Houser makes it easier for those of us who can no longer remember all the ins and outs of the multiple fictional universes we follow. Her stories are well-crafted with a nice blend of action and quite moments. Both of the two issues I’ve read have had compelling cliffhangers drawing me to the next issue. Her dialogue is as natural as it gets in the unnatural world of super-heroes. This is top-notch writing.

I’m also loving the art. Portella does the “real” sequences, which are the bulk of each issue. Sauvage does the “fantasy” sequences. The storytelling, by which I mean the panel-to-panel and page-to-page progression, is excellent. The drawings themselves are equally so. Color artist Andrew Dalhouse adds vibrancy without overpowering the drawings. Letterer Dave Sharpe is one of the best in the comics business.

Faith is a terrific series and I recommend it to all lovers of good super-hero comics. You know, make that great super-hero comics.

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Hellcat

I also read the first two issues of Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat by Kath Leth (writer), Brittney L. Williams (artist) and Megan Wilson (color artist). The first issue opened with our heroine describing her plans for “Super-Temp: the Patsy Walker Agency for Heroes and Other Cool Friends What are In need of Work.” Patsy had me at “So, waddaya think?” even as I was slapping my forehead in regret that I hadn’t come up with that idea first.

The second page of the story summed up Patsy’s history in a manner funny and succinct. I believe I love Leth in a fatherly or perhaps grandfatherly way. Yes, I am ancient.

The two issues continued to amaze me. Patsy tries to work retail. Believably banter between characters. Lively art and storytelling. Telekinetic roommate. Poor broke Patsy becoming a celebrity because rival Hedy Wolfe holds the rights to and is republishing the Patsy Walker comic books created by Patsy’s deranged mother when the kid was a teenager. An old enemy on the horizon.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat has what most super-heroes comic books lack: joy. I read an issue. I feel happy. I don’t get that feeling from enough comic books. One more reason I recommend this title to all of you who want to enjoy their super-heroes and not just wonder where they went wrong.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

 

TONY’S TIPS #149

Welcome to another column of reviews, views and even a plug for my latest comics effort. We’ll start with my pick of the week…

Awarding “pick of the week” to Bart Simpson #100 [Bongo; $4.99] may seem like rewarding bad behavior, but I’ve enjoyed the kid’s comics and TV adventures for too long not to honor the final issue of his series. For the grand finale, Nathan Kane (story and edits) and Ian Boothby (script) have pulled out all the stops for a 44-page time-traveling, reality-altering epic. Kane and Boothby are accompanied by excellent artists Nina Matsumoto (pencils), Andrew Pepoy (inks) and Art Villanueva (colors). It’s a great looking comic book.

This extra-long story has a twist around every turn of the pages. There are lots of laughs and wild action scenes. There is even an heartwarming moment when Bart encounters Mrs. Krabappel in Heaven. I got a little misty over those pages. They cemented my view that this issue deserves a nomination in next year’s comic-book awards.

Bongo Comics itself deserves ongoing praise for its publications. They feature entertaining done-in-one stories (and sometimes more than one done-in-one story) that don’t rely on continuity beyond a passing familiarity with the Simpsons TV series. I’m not even sure you need even a passing familiarity to enjoy Bongo’s wonderfully-written, well-drawn and impeccably produced comics. Their various titles have been on my buying list for years, outlasting a number of favorites from other publishers. If there were a Tony Isabella Seal of Approval, Bongo would get it.

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all-new x-men

All-New X-Men [Marvel; $3.99 per issue] stars four of the original five X-Men, brought from the past to the present because modern-day Hank McCoy went mad scientist with time travel. His intentions were good. Cyclops and the current X-Men had gone off the rails in a big way and Hank thought seeing their younger selves would remind them of a time when they weren’t megalomaniacal jerks. It didn’t work, but the old kids back on the block were interesting as they looked with horror on what their future selves had done. Also, the young Jean Grey outed the young Iceman as gay, which came as a shock to the adult Iceman. Good times.

In the post-Secret Wars version of the title, Jean Gray is starring in an X-Men title that’s not as good as this one. Angel, who has a glowing set of wings for some reason, is romancing the all-new and female Wolverine. Other members include Kid Apocalypse, a bamf name of Pickles and Idie Okonkwo, a mutant with the power of temperature manipulation. It’s a good group and I especially like how the young Cyclops is trying to hide from and then live with the sad fact that his adult self was a megalomaniacal jerk to end all megalomaniacal jerks. While young Scott Summers has inspirational and leadership chops, he’s afraid to make the most of them.

Written by Dennis Hopeless, the first three issues featured Scott and the others crossing paths with a gang of young Chicago mutants who called themselves the Ghosts of Cyclops. Kids do the stupidest things. It was a solid story with excellent art by penciler Mark Bagley, inker Andrew Hennessy and colorist Nolan Woodward. I liked it these issues, though I somewhat alarmed that the fourth issue is a lead-in to Apocalypse Wars, “the next big X-Men event.” Because, Bullwinkle, that trick never works.

If All-New X-Men is still good after “the next big X-Men event,” I will keep reading and recommending it.

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extraordinary x-men

Extraordinary X-Men [Marvel; $3.99] is the X-Men title that’s not as good as the one I just reviewed and, in truth, it’s a title that seems designed to make me not like it. The roster includes Storm, who I don’t know anymore; Iceman, whose struggles with realizing he is gay get a little creepy when he asks a much younger gay mutant for advice; Magik, who has always been unlikeable; Colossus, who is way too enabling of his kid sister; Cerebra, some sort of Sentinel, but a good one; Nightcrawler, who is currently suffering through a nervous breakdown; Jean Grey, who shouldn’t be in this book; and an alternate universe version of Wolverine, a character who is still overused in any universe. They have been fighting the uninteresting Mister Sinister and a clone of the dead older Cyclops. Oh, yeah, and this team and the mutants they shelter are all living in a sanctuary in Limbo. Where’s House Hunters International when you need it?

That’s my come away from all this: bad choices, twisted characters, very clumsy handling of Iceman’s life-changing revelation and the disappointment the whole “mutants are deathly allergic to Terrigen mist isn’t making for much better, more emotional and more gripping stories. I would give this one a pass.

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Garfield small

You’ll have to look real hard to find my credit in my latest comics work. I did the “dialogue restoration” for The Garfield Show #6: Apprentice Sorcerer [Papercutz; hardcover $12.99, paperback $7.99]. The short version of what I do is:

I take the French comics albums adaptations of the popular Garfield TV show and try to restore as much of the original English scripts as the art and space allows. I write some new dialogue here and there as necessary or sometimes because I’m just having so much fun working on these stories.

It’s a great gig for me. Mark Evanier, who produces and does most of the writing for the show, is one of my dearest, oldest friends. Tom Orzechowski, a pal from my pre-Marvel days in comics fandom and another old/dear friend, got his first professional gigs from me. Papercutz editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup is another old/dear friend. Jim has hired me to write for him at three different publishers. In short, I’m having great fun working with three great pals. Buy this book and get it on the fun.

Hardcover: ISBN 978-1-62991-450-3

Paperback: ISBN 978-1-62991-449-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #148

Disney, the man and the organization he created, have been a part of my life for virtually all my life. As a child, I was as regular viewer of The Mickey Mouse Club and The Wonderful World of Disney as my family’s TV watching allowed in those days before recording programs to enjoy later was even a notion. I had a crush on Annette Funicello. I loved Zorro and, indeed, while in kindergarten and not yet five years old, I wrote my first “review” of the Guy Williams series. I saw the films, with Dumbo and The Absent-Minded Professor being early favorites. Oddly enough, I didn’t read the comic books back then, though I was well acquainted with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the rest of the gang through their cartoons. My discovery of the stories of Carl Barks when I was just out of my teens was a revelation. More than any other comics creator, “Unca Carl” made me a believer of and a devoted fan of every kind of comics. Directly and indirectly, Disney expanded my world.

As an adult, I have enjoyed the Disney parks. I did a little work on Disney comics as sort of a script doctor on reprints of stories originally published in other countries. As Disney acquired other creative universes that I love – the Muppets, Marvel Comics, Star Wars – I found the company has become even more a part of my life.

I enjoy the new Muppets television series. Naysayers strike me as akin to those comics fans who can’t accept that comics are not the same as they were in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, etc. The older Muppet movies and TV shows are still available for viewing and they’re still great. Stick with those and stop annoying those of us who can accept a greater range of Muppets than is dreamt of in your philosophy.

I think the Marvel movies that come out of Disney are the very best super-hero movies ever made. The only non-Disney movie that ranks with them is Deadpool.

I loved the newest Star Wars movie. Was it “by the numbers” as some suggest? Perhaps, but it has wonderful new characters, respectful treatment of classic characters, action, drama and humor. It might not have triggered my sense of wonder for me in the exact same way the first Star Wars movie did, but I have no doubt it did for any number of younger viewers.

Limited though my comic-book buying is these days, I am buying all the new Disney comics being published by IDW, all of the Star Wars comics being published by Marvel and several of the current Marvel super-hero titles, including Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I’m good with Disney being a big part of my life. Bigger is not always or necessarily better, but Disney brings me great joy in so many different ways that it would be churlish of me to disparage the company for its size and success.

I’ve been enjoying all IDW’s Disney comics, but the issues I read most recently were Donald Duck #8-10 [$3.99 each]. All these issues feature foreign adventures translated into English and published in the US for the first time. I’m partial to Italian stories like #8’s “Spaced-Out Christmas” by Massimo Marconi and Romano Scarpa, but I have found most of the IDW imports entertaining.

Speaking of the Marconi/Scarpa story, it’s a 28-page yuletide epic which kicks off with Donald feeling like a incompetent and unlucky loser. Then it gets weird when he is seemingly abducted by aliens come to destroy our planet. It’s exciting and funny and uplifting. It’s followed by a Dutch story showcasing Donald’s own generosity of spirit. Donald is a character of vast range and it’s nice to see these comics looking at both his positives and negatives.

Issues #9 and 10 present a fun Italian secret agent adventure, an Icelandic tale of the Duck Avenger, a Danish holiday story written by the USA’s own Pat and Carol McGreal, and a Dutch clash with the Beagle Boys. The IDW Disney comic books are among my favorite comic books in the current marketplace.

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Secret Stories Disney World

The best vacation of my life was when Barb and I took our children to Walt Disney World with our neighbor and his daughter. As much as I love Disneyland – and I love it more than almost any other place on the planet – I love Walt Disney World. I would live there if I could afford it.

My friend Jim Korkis writes wonderful books about all things Disney and has just published Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never Knew You Never Knew [Theme Park Press; $14.95]. This 200-page softcover bills itself as “The Rosetta Stone of Disney Magic” and, after reading it, I definitely believe in magic.

Korkis worked as an instructor at WDW’s Disney University. I think of him as the Disney version of Indiana Jones, as much a seeker of rare knowledge and a history. In concise two-page chapters, Korkis reveals the cool secrets of the place, including tales of abandoned attractions, the nigh-supernatural determination and details that went into the creation of other attractions and a “character you’ve never heard of it, even though he appears numerous times throughout Disney World.”

Korkis writes in an entertainingly informative style that conveys the magic of Disney. I love his books and I recommend all of them. This one is as good a place to start as any.

ISBN 978-1-941500-68-2

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a-disney-sketchbook

Last Christmas, I received A Disney Sketchbook [Disney Editions; $50] from a pal with excellent taste and obvious generosity. This 2012 hardcover is a collection of animation development drawings from Steamboat Willie to Tangled. The sketches are amazing in their imagination and power. I have kept the book close at hand because, sometimes, I just need to get lost in the nostalgia these drawings trigger and the inspiration they provide. Turning the pages is much like watching a world being created before your eyes. It is a book to be cherished and shared.

ISBN 978-142316569-9

I hope you enjoyed this look at Disney comic books and other magic. I’ll be back next week with reviews from other corners of the ever wondrous world of comics.

© 2016 Tony Isabella